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Madagascar: New Threats to Protestant Church and Free Speech

The beginning of the year in Madagascar has been marked with yet more protests where protesters have been fired upon and the harassment of those perceived as close to the former regime of Marc Ravalomanana, including several journalists and the protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar.

VOA writes:

“Security forces in Madagascar used tear gas to break up opposition marchers in the capital, Antananarivo, on Wednesday.

The protesters were marching to the presidential palace to deliver a letter to military-backed leader Andry Rajoelina.  The letter asked Mr. Rajoelina if he still supports reconciliation as a way to end the country's political turmoil.”

Two journalists working for Radio Fahazavana, Lôlô Ratsimba and Didier Ravoahangiarison, have been arrested. Radio Fahazavana is a radio station close to the FJKM, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, of which the closest denomination would be Presbyterian. Former President Marc Ravalomanana had been vice president of the FJKM, a closeness that worried some and was criticized by Ravalomanana's adversaries as a violation of the separation of church and state.

Another journalist, Jaona Raoly , has been temporarily released. Lôlô Ratsimba and Didier Ravoahangiarison are accused of being accomplices to the aborted military mutiny that happened at dawn on December 29. The online news section of Moov reports the arrests :

“Accusé de complicité avec les auteurs de la mutinerie au RAS (Régiment d'Appui et de Soutien), on reproche à Lôlô Ratsimba d'être le premier et le seul journaliste à avoir été présent à Ampahibe le 29 décembre au petit matin, c'est à dire au moment des faits. Le journaliste a nié jusqu'au bout son inculpation. « D'abord, j'étais arrivé à Ampahibe ce 29 décembre à 5h30 du matin et non à 4h. Ensuite, Si je me suis rendu sur les lieux, c'est parce qu'un auditeur de la radio Fahazavana qui habite aux alentours d'Ampahibe, m'a informé de l'existence de la mutinerie. (…) Quant à Didier Ravoahangiarison, qui n'est autre que le directeur de la radio Fahazavana, il est accusé de ne pas avoir prévenu les forces de l'ordre alors qu'il aurait été au courant de tout, bien avant les faits…”

“Accused of complicity with the mutineers of the RAS (Regiment of Assistance and Support), one reproaches to Lolo that he was the one and only journalist to be present at Ampahibe on December 29 in the early morning, when the attempted mutiny occurred. The journalist denied the accusation. “First, I arrived to Ampahibe on December 29, at 5.30am and not at 4.00am. Second, I came there, because a listener of radio Fahazavana who lives in the surroundings of Ampahibe had informed me of the mutiny.”…Didier Ravoahangiarison, the director of radio Fahazavana, is accused of not having warned the authorities, while he would have been aware of the mutiny, way before it happened.”

A letter from Pastor Rasendrahasina, president of the FJKM is reproduced in a forum. In it Rasendrahasina states a worry that the Andry Rajoelina regime is hounding the church. Pasteur Rasendrahasina had to take refuge in the US for a while after Ravalomanana was toppled.

“People think I'm kind of his adviser. They took me as a kind of hostage,” he said. “I had to move from place to place (after my release). I didn't sleep at home. So we decided to get away from the country for awhile.”

He is now back in Madagascar. His letter states:

“The detention of the FJKM journalists follows a long series of actions taken against Radio Fahazavana by the HAT coup d’etat government, including the kidnapping and holding as a hostage of Mr. Ravohangiharison’s wife for about 48 hours on 25 June 2009 to get her husband to turn himself in to the gendarmerie for questioning. The HAT government recently prevented Lolo Ratsimba from returning to Madagascar from a meeting in Maputo and then from Johannesburg. Recently, on 21 December, the HAT minister of communications ordered Radio Fahazavana to take its news and call-in programs off the air for a month.  (…)

A number of pastors have decided to speak out against injustice. On December 28, they held an ecumenical worship service calling for justice and denouncing human rights violations and persecution of the church. Several pastors who took part have been slandered in pro-HAT press and are on alert in case action is taken against them. This same group of pastors is planning to have a similar worship service tomorrow 9 January. Didier Ravohangiharison was to have testified about the persecution of Radio Fahazavana at this worship service.”

The church yesterday organized a service that was well attended. Picture from the pro-Ravalomanana website Collectif GTT.

Antsahamanitra Religious Service

Antsahamanitra Religious Service

As reported by Avylavitra:

“Hita nanatrika ny fotoana teny Antsahamanitra androany ny mpanao politika toa an-dry Mamy Rakotoarivelo sy Rabetsitonta.
Marobe ny olona tonga nanatrika ny fotoana, ary saiky ireo mpomba ny filoha teo aloha Ravalomanana no nameno ny kianjan’Antsahamanitra “

“Many were those who attended the service in Antsahamaitra today, among those are politicians like Mamy Rakotoarivelo and Rabetsitonta. Many attended and most of them are supporters of former President Ravalomanana. “

Some wonder if the church is now paying its closeness with former President Ravalomanana. Tananews had this analysis:

“L’Eglise de Jesus Christ à Madagascar (FJKM) commence à payer cher sa trop grande « proximité » avec l’ancien Président Marc Ravalomanana. La FJKM a ainsi vu passer l’année 2009 avec son Président Lala Rasendrahasina molesté à Antanimena, ses églises cambriolées et dépouillées, ses prêtres menacés, des menaces et des rumeurs de fermetures de certaines églises, la censure de l’émission « Ampejika » sur la Radio Fahazavana, proche de la FJKM et enfin cerise sur le gâteau, l’assujettissement de la FJKM à l’impôt sur le bénéfice des sociétés (IBS) à 23%. La FJKM semble s’être faite beaucoup d’ennemis sous les années Marc Ravalomanana et semble payer cher sa (trop grande?) implication dans la politique nationale. La laïcité de l’État de nouveau à l’ordre du jour ?”

“The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) is beginning to pay for being too “close” to former President Marc Ravalomanana.  The FJKM has seen during the year 2009 its President Lala Rasendrahasina molested in Antanimena, its churches robbed and burglarized, its pastors threatened, menaces and rumors of closings of some churches, the censorship of the program “Ampejika” on radio Fahazavana, close to the FJKM, and the cherry on the cake, the subjection of the church to taxation, similar to a private company, at 23%. The FJKM seems to have gained many enemies under Ravalomanana and seems to pay for its too great involvement in national politics. Is the separation of state and church again in question in Madagascar?  ”
FJKM service of January 09 2010

FJKM service of January 09 2010 from http://collectif-gtt.org/

In 2009, the Council of Christian Churches had attempted to serve as a mediator between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina. Since 1980, the Council had mediated many political crises successfully, drawing on its moral and religious leadership. This time, although roundtables were organized, the members of the Council themselves emerged as the image of Madagascar–divided, weakened and biased (see H. Exc. Mons. Razanakolona's intervention on Radio Vaticana).

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